few weeks ago Madam Devieux—Solange as I am permitted to call her—began
keeping rabbits. They've been given the largest of the guest rooms. Solange is
against confining them in cages.
her behest, the room has been emptied of everything, even the potted plants. Rosa spent a day dispersing succulents and orchids throughout the other rooms of the apartment.
The horticulturist, who once a week attends to the household flora, was not
consulted. Apparently le vétérinaire had warned Solange that certaines
houseplants were dangereuses to the rabbits if ingested. Of course,
she didn't recall which ones.
the walls in the rabbits' room had to be stripped bare was less clear. But I
was glad to "carefully and gently take down the art" as instructed. My
internship in the Administration of the Private Collection had already involved
far too many trips to drop off and pick up Solange's dry cleaning.
s'il te plait, sois mignon and help Malvi," Solagne told Gerhart, the
current artist-in-residence of the studio in the north end of the apartment. The
muscle at the angle of his jaw clenched and unclenched like a fist. Ordinarily,
he merely follows Solange's doings with the silent scrutiny of a dog.
Gerhart's grudging assistance, I hung the Rothko from the rabbits' room in Solange's
yoga space. The painting's melting lozenges of yellow and orange paired with
the spikiness of the relocated Pencil Euphorbia struck me as weirdly
satisfying. When I said as much to Gerhart, he just glowered at me from behind
brushed at the scrim of smoke with my hand. "Dude, it's not like Solange asked
you to scrub the toilet or anything, ok?"
snorted smoke out of his nostrils, expelled a wheezy laugh. "You are so
naive," he said.
large, crushed-car Chamberlain sculpture that used to occupy the corner of the
rabbits' room was removed to Gerhart's studio.
an inspiration for you, n'est-ce pas?" Solange thrilled.
Gerhart dutifully agreed, but judging by what I've
seen of his work—the mural he's painting in Solange's living room resembles the
former Berlin Wall—I suspect that he scorns the sculpture as frivolous.
smaller artworks from the rabbits' room were designated for display in the
kitchen for the édification aesthétique of the staff. Unless Solange
is entertaining, her kitchen staff consists only of Jack, who couldn't care
less about art. Other than cooking for Solange, which he has done through all
her phases from Japanese macrobiotic to the household's currently prevailing cuisine
de la Normandie, Jack is interested only in drinking himself senseless.
Solange has great faith in the power of art to redeem, ennoble, exalt, and so
the Ellsworth Kellys now hang in the kitchen.
religious zeal for everything from cave art to contemporary artists is
touchingly old-fashioned. Rooms are endlessly rearranged in the service of her
ever-growing collection of paintings and sculpture. The apartment is full off
reliquaries for ceramics, weavings, beadwork, and glass.
Solange has read excerpts from Derrida, Lacan. In public, and especially around
Gerhart, she talks about art in terms of signifier and signified. He nods in a
way that suggests that he's not displeased, and responds in kind.
My own skills in the language of critical discourse have
failed to warm Gerhart toward me. He has yet to invite me to set foot in his
studio. No doubt the disparity in our status plays a part. He is a risen art
star, I am studying to be a curator. But there's also my involvement with the
see him roll his eyes whenever Solange tells the story of the rabbits—which
is often, since everyone who comes to the apartment is taken to admire them.
bought the first pair on a whim at the animal market on the Seine.
the assumption was that I meant to cook them," she explains. "I've eaten
rabbit of course. Grand-père hunted for sport and abhorred waste."
Four of the rabbits are a rare breed. The small calico one is from a species
that verges on extinction. Or so Solange says. Three are angoras. The tips
of their ears have round tufts like the dandelion puffs that children make
wishes on. There is also a large brown hare and an orange rex. The hare
terrorizes the rex.
my responsibility to feed the rabbits and to pick up their jellybeans, as Rosa calls the droppings. I've tried to tell Rosa that they're really shaped more like
ball bearings, but her English is limited.
for the rabbits is easier than waitressing, and the hours are better. It also
beats filing slides and answering phones in some gallery that considers itself
too hip to pay minimum wage. The internship not only pays for a sizable chunk
of my tuition, but also results in the occasional windfall—an invitation to
a gallery opening Solange doesn't feel like attending, a v.i.p. pass to a
sold-out exhibit, a seat at a black-tie gala when a place at her table
unexpectedly goes unfilled. I've stood, sat, dined alongside artists I would
never have met on my own, and had the privilege to witness them celebrate,
gossip, and brawl.
perks make it easier to put up with the way Gerhard bares his teeth in
something that's supposed to pass for a smile whenever he sees me carrying the
rabbit's salad bowl to them.
rodents eat better than a lot of people in this country do," he sneered once.
you," he said, as though I'd overlooked the obvious.
Rosa, too, cannot understand why an American stoops to do what she, an illegal alien
refugee with few prospects, refuses to do.
I clean. Rabbits no. I say this plain to Madam Devieux face," Rosa confided
to me after I'd been caring for the rabbits for just a few days.
you afraid you'd get fired?"
si. Si. Is why I say to her I am ignorant of rabbits." She
made a soft spitting sound to indicate that any self-respecting immigrant, no
matter how desperate, would have done the same. "Madam Devieux must to find
somebody more smart, I say to her. Like you."
were standing at the door of the rabbits' room and Rosa whispered as though she
were afraid of being overheard.
my country, bedroom is for people. Rabbit for eating."
rabbits are pets," I said. "It's different."
have beautiful hair, small white hands. Why you no marry? No have to do this
like rabbits," I said, and knocked loudly on the door.
for you do that?"
scare the rabbits away from the door."
Rosa laughed. Her metal tooth flashed in the hard brightness of the halogen track
lighting. "Loca," I heard her say as she walked away.
days I have to slip into the rabbits' room as quietly as I can. The knocking
has conditioned them to gather at the door. The last time I knocked, the
orange rex bolted out between my legs. I screamed. The salad bowl flew out of
my hands. Dandelion greens, carrots and four kinds of lettuce rained down on
the carpeted warren. The escaping rabbit's toenails click-clicked on the
polished marble of the hallway. I chased the rex to where it hid under a
display of antique Navaho blankets. The blanket stand toppled. The rex shot
in a single leap into Solange's office. Luckily, she was out introducing
Gerhart to potential collectors.
came running from the kitchen. "Girl, what in the name of all that's holy is
we cornered the rabbit under Solange's desk. I was closest.
it up by the ears," Jack said.
if you hold it right," he said, and was gone.
I said. "Nice rabbit." I wondered if, like dogs, it could smell fear.
"Solange would not like finding us in here."
even Gerhart, who I suspect shares Solange's bed on occasion, goes into her
office without being invited.
crept closer. I saw a watery image of myself slide across the rabbit's dark
eye. The rabbit sprang. My fingers clamped around its ears. I pulled the
rabbit out from under the desk and carried it down the hall.
rex's front paws flailed uselessly. The powerful jabs of its hind legs only
made it swing more wildly in my grasp.
I whispered and attempted to steady it with my other hand. The buzz of the
rabbit's heart was electric against my palm.
I whispered again when I put the rabbit down in the room. There were dark red
bruises where my fingers had held the ears. The rex scampered over to the
scattered lettuce as though nothing had happened.
help you were," I told Jack in the kitchen.
belong out in the wild. Best thing would be to let the lot of them go."
where? Central Park? These rabbits couldn't survive on their own." I thought
of the black angora. Sassy. Self-possessed. When it is not ricocheting madly
from wall to wall, or leaping straight up into the air, it lies on its side
like an odalisque, ears tossed back over its shoulders, back feet stretched far
behind. It's never had a thought in its head of owls, or falcons, or coyotes.
still be better off."
resisted the urge to punch Jack
I find the rabbits crouched along the baseboards and in the corners. Their
ears swivel and tilt like furry antennas. The hare has claimed the closet for
himself. He is busy combing his ears with his forefeet, but abandons his
grooming as soon as he sees me. The hare loves to eat. If I let him, he will
guard the bowl to keep the rest of the rabbits from the food.
stand in the middle of the room. Slowly the rabbits gather at my feet. Their
footfall is muffled by the heavy carpeting. The specially blended green
Solange had Gerhard create for the rug is meant to make it look like spring
grass. I wish that it were. For what it cost to have the rug custom-dyed,
Solange could have had a real lawn installed.
imagine men in stained overalls unrolling already growing runners of grass
across the parquet, entomologists releasing the right numbers of worms and
beetles to ensure aeration of the soil, botanists instructing me in the proper
care and maintenance of the lawn. I picture myself mowing and raking inside a
bedroom on the eleventh floor of an apartment building on Park Avenue. I
imagine romping with the rabbits in our tiny meadow.
tell myself that it's only in my presence that the rabbits affect the limping
gait with which they approach their food bowl. I'd like to believe that once
I'm gone, they fly across the room, the padding under the carpet boosting them
like a trampoline.
put down the water dish. The rabbits take short, delicate sips. I cannot help
but notice that despite the vitamins the vet recommends, the rabbits are losing
their luster. I wonder if it's because Solange had the rabbits neutered to prevent
"reckless procreation" that they've gone so slack. The hare has gotten
heavy. An apron of flesh hangs from the once graceful arc of its belly, and
all but covers its long back paws.
The calico rabbit hunches up in the darkest corner of
the room with its eyes closed. It no longer rolls around with wild abandon
like it used to. The rex's eyes have gone the cloudy white of a cataract, and
tufts of its fur drift around the room like tumbleweed. Its nose is dry. I
know it's got to be a bad sign.
angoras seem to be all right. The two white ones are loudly crunching the food
pellets I mix in with the lettuce. The black one is nowhere in sight.
check the closet. The hare fixes me with an unblinking eye.
I cannot remember when I last saw all three of the
angoras. Maybe a day, maybe two ago. Maybe longer. I am not in the habit of
counting the rabbits.
"Here rabbit, rabbit," I call softly, feeling like
Elmer Fudd, as I search the apartment for some trace of the missing angora—
stray droppings, chewed up electric cords or houseplants, or gnawed furniture.
I imagine it trapped somewhere behind a dresser in an unused room or a closet,
but there is no smell of a putrefying carcass.
check the rabbits' room again. The angora is definitely not there.
confide in Jack. "I'm in deep trouble. There's a rabbit missing."
Jesus, not again. You've got to be more careful girl. I can't be chasing
rabbits with you every day."
like the last time. I mean gone." I cannot imagine how it got out.
scratches his stubbled chin with the handle of the special olive wood spoon he
uses to stir the cast enamel pots. "You're not thinking someone took it?"
laughs. "Who'd want to do that?"
what would she be wanting with a rabbit?"
be daft girl. Hers is a big family. A single rabbit wouldn't do them."
then. To spite me. To get me in trouble with Solange."
true the man cares for you about as much as for a splinter in his eye."
possibly someone who came to the house took it —because it was cute. Because
it belongs to Solange."
turns his attention back to the large enamel pot on the stove. I stop pacing
and peer deep into the boiling brown broth.
do I know this isn't a rabbit ragout you're cooking?"
laughs. "I had a pet rabbit myself once. Russet it was, like a new potato.
It had an unfortunate liking for the legs of kitchen chairs. Had to keep it in
the bathtub. Ended up being taken away to the country."
must have been sad."
swore he found the rabbit a right good home. Said it would get taken care of
proper." Jack laughed again. "Lived to a ripe old age, I bet that rabbit
did. Out there in the country. Same as chickens and pigs do."
going to have to tell Solange." I resume pacing between the stove and the nook
where the Ellsworth Kelly botanical drawings hang over a tiny bistro table.
Jack calls the nook his executive suite.
not blame Rosa," he says. "Get the poor woman fired."
Solange took the rabbit, made a present of it to one of her friends, and didn't
mention it. You know the way she's always giving stuff away. Buys a t-shirt
she likes in twelve colors. Donates ten of them to charity."
grins in a way that makes me nervous. "Could be," he says without a bit of
conviction. "Could be."
she'll never even notice that the angora is gone."
will," Jack says. "When she's ready."
seems to me that she's losing interest in the rabbits." I notice that Jack
does not contradict me. "Maybe by the time she does notice, it won't matter,"
I say, knowing that it will. The look Jack gives me confirms this.
it's not the rare one that's gone. Maybe I can replace it." Feeling suddenly
tired and tearful, I sink down into the straw café chair in the nook.
cookbook lies on the table. I open it nervously, as though I'm about to look
at something forbidden.
to dress, the index entry reads. An image of the angora got up in sweater,
hat, and shoes à la Beatrix Potter comes to mind.
ensure tender meat, hang the rabbit by the feet for one to four days. It will
be tender without hanging, if used before it has had time to stiffen. Once
stiffened it is edible as long as the hind legs are rigid, but if the joint has
become pliable discard the rabbit.
illustration shows a rabbit, its hind hocks split by a large nail, hanging
upside down. A pair of disembodied hands—gloved, as the text instructs, to
protect them from tularemia—are pulling the rabbit's skin over the body and
forelegs, turning it inside out. Dotted lines indicate where the front legs,
head, and tail were to have been severed.
in one movement. Discard the head with the skin. Next remove the entrails,
except for the heart and liver, and discard. Begin by slitting three to four
inches at the breast bone. Insert your hand and press the inner organs down
out of the way as you continue to cut, turning the blade upward so as not to
pierce the intestines. At the base of the gut cavity, near the hind legs, take
hold of the large intestine and pull it out.
remainder of the text is still more explicit. No illustration is required. I
am sweating and retching even before I get to the part about storing the blood
for use as sauce thickener. Left in the body cavity, the blood produces a
fishy flavor the cookbook warns.
run out of the kitchen to wash my face, my hands. I wish I could change my
clothes. I feel like they smell unclean.
returned from one of her peddling expedition, calls to me as I leave the
chérie, I must speak with you about the rabbits."
always her voice is breathy, as though she's been running. But the rest of her
is perfectly composed. Her hair—a grandmotherly white—is swept up into an
elegant chignon in the style of Sargent's Madame X. Her eyes are the blue of a
glacial lake. A very large, but simply set diamond suspended from a delicate
platinum chain is her only adornment.
swallow hard. "The rabbits?"
you know Max of course, le copain de Gerhart."
nod, though I don't.
very talented performer. Over lunch today, he approached me about using the
rabbits in a performance piece he's doing at the Naked Eye."
way downtown," I say. It's the one thing I know for sure.
She doesn't embrace me, but I feel as though she has. "Max is a dear man. And
I'm very fond of his art. I would very much like to help him. Especially since
he is a friend of Gerhard." She kneads the diamond distractedly. "But what he
is asking ... Vraiment, it is not possible. Mes pauvres petits.
Imagine asking me to have the rabbits transported to the theater and back each
would be stressful."
perhaps, could bear it. He's such a brute. Mais, the others—Anis,
and Sel, and Sucre, and Chablis, and Pirouette—
especially Pirouette—are so delicate, don't you think?"
it is decided. I will tell Max that the keeper of the rabbits will not permit
the use of them."
sweeps into her office, and I run back to the kitchen.
is hunkered down in the nook over a large mug. As usual, it's filled with what
looks like coffee, but smells like Scotch.
has named the rabbits," I tell him.
shrugs. "People name their pets."
find it hard to say exactly why the naming of the rabbits is so upsetting.
Maybe it's that their fate seemed less preordained when they were des lapins.
It hasn't escaped my notice that Solange calls Jack Mr. Couteau. Gerhart
of the spiky hair and personality to match is Artichaut. And Rosa, round and tart, is Cerise. Only I have no special name. Solange unfailingly
calls me Malvi. For the first time, I'm glad
clutches his whiskey-spiked coffee. Against the cobalt blue of the cup his
skin seems an unhealthy yellow. "It's a christening party you were expecting,
is that it?"
merely smiles and toasts me with the cup.
can't decide whether it would be more satisfying to smash it out of his hand,
or to take a gulp. In the end, I just grab one of Solange's monogrammed pads
off the table, and let myself into the rabbit room.
they realize that I have no food, the rabbits scatter and sink onto their
haunches. I count them. One is still missing.
must be Cannelle," I tell the hare. I guess at Chablis and Anis.
One of the white angoras is undoubtedly Sucre, the other Sel. I
wonder what Solange has named the other rabbits. Pirouette, I decide
must be the missing angora.
my back against the wall, I slide down onto the floor. Despite being specially
made, the rug feels like plain old Astroturf against the back of my legs. A
colossal waste of money. Just like the lap pool filled with mineral water out
on the terrace that Solange has recently deemed too small for an adequate
work-out. And the yoga room, which she is too busy to use. And the collection
of faience, which she walks by without seeing.
pours into the room from the bank of windows across from me. If only the light
in my own apartment were as good. The lower sky has the faint green tint it
gets when trees are budding. Over the sound of distant traffic, I hear birds
sit with the pad propped on my knees, and try to compose an explanatory note
that is concise, and clever, and devastating. Crumpled drafts, some with
snippets from Derrida and Lacan, pile up around me like oversized spitballs.
The notes are snide and cold, worse than Solange deserves. She is not cruel.
Merely thoughtless. Unthinking.
it not for her, the rabbits would be prey, or stew. And Gerhart would be
scrounging to show his work in some unknown co-op gallery, and Jack would be
living under a bridge,
and ... "Damn," I shout.
rabbits take no notice. I watch their faces crease and uncrease as they work
their noses the way toothless old men gum their lips. Backlit by the sun,
their ears look as fragile as autumn leaves.
I finish sobbing, I turn to a fresh page. I write the only honest thing that
comes to mind.
A rabbit is missing. I am
both glad and sorry.
P.S. I quit.
the way to Solange's office I pass Rosa turning down the quilt in the master
tardes," she calls out, and gives the pillow a half-hearted thump. She
seems shrunken alongside the vast bed.
I smile and wave. "Have a good afternoon."
door is wreathed in cigarette smoke. I don't hear a single sound to suggest
that he's working. I consider knocking, but then I imagine his sallow face
glowering at me, and tiptoe past.
luck, Artichaut" I whisper.
is no slipping my note under Solange's office door. She's there, on the phone.
one is gone," I hear her say. After a pause, she continues. "Oui, of
course that one was the very best, but there are others. They're also very
good ... "
a moment I think that she already knows about the rabbit. But no, it seems
that it's the disposition of one of Gerhard's pieces that she's discussing.
talks, and keeps on talking, and I shift from foot to foot unable leave, unable
to stop listening. The longer I stay, the less sure I am of what she's talking
about. Or whom.
check my watch. It's time to feed the rabbits. I fold the note neatly in
half, pocket it.
apartment is almost empty. It is Rosa's afternoon off. Jack is gone too. I
feed the rabbits and wait for Solange and Gerhard to embark on another of their
all-night round of banquets and parties.
they leave, I slip into Solange's darkened office. It is the only room besides
Gerhard's studio that I haven't searched. After fumbling for a while, I manage
to turn on the sleekly sculptural desk lamp, which casts a narrow, but intense arc
of bluish white light.
office is smaller than I remember, and less opulent than I would expect. A
single Stella adorns the white expanse of wall above the desk. It is a smooth,
black chevron of monkish simplicity. I admire Solange for not having chosen
one of the artist's later, flamboyant panels.
lean across the desk to study it. Even up close, the surface looks glassine.
But under my fingers, the pigment is pebbly.
sudden sound startles me. I stand frozen. I hear the sound again. It's a draft
from the open door rustling the lacy philodendron alongside the desk.
almost miss the dark shape curled around the base of the plant's thick green
Pirouette." When no one is around to hear me, I talk out loud to the
rabbits. I didn't use to. I worry that it's a bad sign, that I will end up
talking to sparrows and squirrels like that crumpled woman I see drifting
around the park.
does the Stella look from down there?" The black angora doesn't perk up its
ears and regard me attentively as is its habit, just lies there with its face
cradled on its paws. Its lustrous eye have assumed the slant shape made
immortal by Gauguin's Tahitian beauties.
I lift the angora out of the pot by the scruff of its neck. "Sorry to say,
your little field trip is over," I croon. Its head hangs between its legs, a
picture of remorse.
carry the rabbit over to the desk. Its nose is not twitching. Its limbs lie
but still pliable.
rabbit's body is perfect. Not a mark on it.
never seen the angora look more beautiful. In the sharp light, its fur is a
dark, dark brown, like burnished wood. Not black, as I thought. Its guard
hairs are tipped with gold. Its thick, handsome ruff blazes like a halo around
its head. I pet the angora's black snout just the way it liked. Close its
eyes. Admire the satiny fringe of its long lashes. Its face wears a look of
my finger, I trace the delicate slope of its jaw, stroke the soft hollow under
cool, and smooth, and slick brushes up against my skin. Bracing myself to find
something verminous, disgusting, I part the thicket of fur. A gnawed remnant
of a philodendron leaf clings to the angora's silky coat.
am reminded of what the vet once told me. Rabbits can be trained to use a
litter box, to respond when called, even to swim. But they cannot be trained
out of their passion for gnawing.
brush at the leaf, and it drifts slowly down onto the Abyssinian rug. Its
serrated fronds blend with the carpet's angular geometries.
cradle the rabbit hard against my chest. Turn off the light. Before leaving
the room, I grind the poisonous philodendron leaf deep into the patterned
pile. Tomorrow, or the next day, or the next, Rosa will vacuum it away.